Short Story Dec. 29: Packer

“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by Z.Z. Packer

Quote of Note: “ When it was my turn I said, “My name is Dina, and if I had to be any object, I guess I’d be a revolver.” The sunlight dulled as if on cue. Clouds passed rapidly overhead, presaging rain. I don’t know why I said it. Until that moment I’d been good in all the ways that were meant to matter. I was an honor-roll student — though I’d learned long ago not to mention it in the part of Baltimore where I lived. Suddenly I was hard-bitten and recalcitrant, the kind of kid who took pleasure in sticking pins into cats; the kind who chased down smart kids to spray them with mace.”

Packer has stuffed into this story so many “political” things. In an attempt to be aware, to recognize inequality, to identify privilege, our society, or perhaps my generation, has turned it into a game of tagging. How many “tags” do you have and how do they add up. I’m white, but I’m female. I’m black, but I’m still male and heterosexual. I’m white and male, but I’m also gay. I’m black and female, but I have a certain economic status. In this ridiculous game, Dina, has a lot of tags. She might have every tag you can have. And yet, the great thing about this story: Packer refuses to let you divide Dina up into tags. You can’t divorce her from any part of her identity. She is a whole person. One reader might relate to one or more of her tags, but the reader is reminded, always, of her other tags, of the way in which being any one tag affects your other tags and factors into your every day life. I don’t mean to say that Packer is being reductive or deterministic, rather that she is being holistic and in that way she seems to win the tag game by playing it and deconstructing it at the same time.

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